Neil Cox - General Manager Isaac Theatre Royal

Preserving the past or A Celebration of history

The Isaac Theatre Royal is a permanent reminder of the rich history of Christchurch. The massive restoration project undertaken after the February earthquakes resulted in the reopening of the theatre, with many exciting shows lined up for the future.

Standing outside the grand Isaac Theatre Royal, it’s hard to believe it hasn’t stood exactly that way for the past 100 years. And that’s exactly the point.

Although undergoing major structural repairs following the February Earthquakes, the beautiful theatre has been restored with heritage features retained or replaced when necessary.

According to General Manager of the Isaac Theatre Royal Neil Cox, there was never really a questions that the grand theatre wouldn’t be restored to its original design, although early discussions with the board, architects and insurers contemplated a new build as the easiest way forward.

“What would the theatre be without her restored façade and glorious dome? It would just be a functioning theatre, but it is so much more than that. It’s an eye feast of history and restoration as well” says Cox.

“What would the theatre be without her restored façade and glorious dome? It would just be a functioning theatre, but it is so much more than that. It’s an eye feast of history and restoration as well."

Neil Cox - Isaac Theatre Royal

Although insured, it quickly became clear to the board that pay out alone wouldn’t be enough to cover the extensive repairs, and significant funding would be needed.
“Support from artists, patrons and major funding entities and various others kept the project moving forward but it wasn’t until the $6 million Lottery Significant Projects Fund was confirmed in February 2014 that we knew we had the funding needed to complete the task. It was quite an emotional day.

“What would the theatre be without her restored façade and glorious dome? It would just be a functioning theatre, but it is so much more than that. It’s an eye feast of history and restoration as well”

Although the theatre retains its original look and feel, the rebuild provided an opportunity to intertwine some much needed enhancements to the foyer space and technical operations.

“The theatre was getting a little in need of some technical TLC before the quakes but even then was the only operating Edwardian theatre in Australasia so the protection of that fact alone was enough for the rebuild project. Now she is equipped to handle any theatrical touring show”.

This was put to the test with hugely popular show Le Noir, a mix of burlesque and cirque acrobatics performed at times high above the audience.

“What would the theatre be without her restored façade and glorious dome? It would just be a functioning theatre, but it is so much more than that. It’s an eye feast of history and restoration as well”.

Neil Cox - Isaac Theatre Royal

Cox joined the theatre as General Manager in 2009, and had two successful years in spite of the September earthquakes (to which the theatre sustained little damage) hosting key internationals shows including Waiting For Godot starring Ian McKellen, who later raised over $350,000 towards the repair of the theatre following the 2011 earthquakes.

He says the endorsements from Royal New Zealand Ballet and New Zealand Opera, has ensured the theatre is ‘one of the big three’ in the country for theatrical and dance shows, and the improved acoustics and increased seating capacities make the Isaac attractive to international producers.

“Compared to the London West End and Broadway, our public areas are now world class and will be constantly maintained and enhanced in the years ahead so that it is not only about the show, but the fact that the show is playing at the Isaac Theatre Royal!”.

2016 is a busy year for the theatre, with three musicals, (Mamma Mia, Hairspray and Evita), a gala event with Dame Kiri Te Kanawa, a performance by comedienne Dawn French. and the return of the NZ International Film Festival to name just a few.
“There is so much more to come and 2017 is looking as good. It is a golden era again at the Isaac Theatre Royal”.

Neil Cox’s Top 5 Things to do in Christchurch

  1. Experiencing the new fabulous restaurants and cuisine that is springing up all over town.
  2. The Spectrum street art festival is a must, plus the ever growing street art around town.
  3. A day out at the new Hagley Oval is fabulous. A superb place to watch cricket.
  4. Live entertainment, of any genre, is invigorating and a major part of life in Christchurch.
  5. And of course, a night out at the theatre.

How to Get There

In New Zealand’s South Island, Christchurch is the country’s second-largest city. It has an international airport, and there are regular flights from other domestic centres.

Best Time to Visit

In autumn, the changing of the leaves makes the city’s historic districts especially beautiful. With ski areas such as Porters and Mt Hutt nearby, you can enjoy a winter wonderland. Known as “the Garden City”, Christchurch comes to life in spring, while summer is an opportunity to enjoy some of the city’s 40 safe swimming beaches.

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